What You Need to Know Right Now About Kindle Vella
The new Amazon platform for authors of serialized fiction opens soon! Here's what you need to know
A New Platform
At this point, you may have heard about the new Amazon reading platform opening to the public this summer: Kindle Vella.
But if you haven't heard, you're not alone! Amazon, so far, has kept the fuss to a minimum - one can only hope, as Vella's grand opening draws nearer, they'll start shouting about it from the rooftops.
What it's About
Kindle Vella will be (yet another) Amazon attempt to break into the serialized fiction market. They have put forth several efforts so far, which yielded far from perfect results, including Kindle Serials, Kindle Worlds and Kindle Scout. As an author interested in publishing on Vella, I sincerely hope they've learned from their mistakes.
The serialized reading market is not a new arena, with publishing platforms Wattpad and Radish having been hugely successful - so successful, in fact, that both companies were recently sold in multi-million dollar deals.
Radish was purchased by a South Korean company, Kakao Entertainment, for $440 million, while Wattpad recently announced it's own acquisition by Naver, a South Korean internet conglomerate, for over $600 million.
It's likely these transactions are what sparked Amazon's sudden interest in revisiting the serialized fiction platform.
Why You Should Start Now
Vella is scheduled to be launched to the public sometime this summer, though Amazon hasn't pinned down an exact date yet.
There have been whispers that it will be in late June or early July.
My guess: they are waiting until they have an impressive array of stories available, which is why authors should go ahead now and get the process started.
Vella has been open to authors for over a month now, and we have no way of knowing what's already been created…which is a bit frustrating, in terms of making sure your selected genre has not already been inundated with stories.
Be that as it may, the best way for any of us to succeed in Vella is to get in ahead of the curve.
Not only will the early authors receive the best promotional efforts of Amazon as they launch the platform, it's also true that this will be the smallest pool of authors that Vella will ever hold, giving your stories a better chance of being read!
How it Works
Readers will be able to access the first three episodes of any story for free.
In terms of Vella lingo, think of the "episodes" as chapters, and the "story" as a book, whether you're planning a novel or an anthology. (An anthology can hold "episodes" of each short story, labeled Part 1, Part 2, etc. of Short Story Name)
Authors get to choose the length of their episodes, ranging from 600–5000 words.
We also get a space to write "Author's Notes" at the end of each chapter, to draw your readers along and encourage them to keep reading. Author's notes can be up to 200 words.
Personally, I don't write an author's note at the end of every episode, but I do write them at critical points, such as after the last of the free episodes, and also to preview the next story in my anthology.
It's important to note here, that Amazon does not want you to use this space ("Author's Notes") for your own promotion, in the form of outside links. It seems permissible to say that you have other books or a website, trusting the reader will Google your name, but no links to other sites. They haven't been entirely clear as to what the penalties would be, but it's best to avoid doing this.
After the free episodes, readers have to purchase tokens to continue.
At this point, it appears that tokens will be purchased in the following packages:(although Amazon has a disclaimer up that they may change this pricing down the line)
Readers will need 1 token to unlock every 100 words. So, 10 tokens to read 1,000 words.
What You Make…at First Glance
Amazon states "authors will get 50% of the revenue for tokens used to unlock their story".
For example, say you have a 96,000 word unpublished novel that you want to split into episodes for Vella.
First, realize that readers get the initial three episodes for free. Let's say you keep these at a regular book chapter length (although you don't have to, you can chop them down to 600 words per episode, if you want).
If each chapter is 3,000 words, subtract 9,000 from your novel length. These are the freebies.
Your 96k novel is now 87k. It will take a reader 870 tokens to read the rest of your story.
The reader will need to decide which package size to purchase. The smallest commitment they can make will render tokens to be about a penny each.
If they buy in bulk, the cost goes down slightly. Now, since you don't know how the customer will be purchasing, in bulk or not, you can only figure your profit as a range.
The formula is this:
(Number of Tokens to unlock episode) * (Tokens bundle price/# Tokens in bundle - taxes and fees) * (50% revenue share) = Earnings per episode (via Kindle Vella)
Amazon, in their own example, is leaving taxes and fees at zero, so we have no choice but to compute it that way as well, realizing, of course, taxes/fees will bring down the estimated earnings a bit.
- If your reader goes with buying the smallest package, not overly committing at first, but ends up reading the entire story anyway, it looks like this:
870*(1.99/200 - 0)*.50=$4.32
- If they bought their tokens in bulk, the formula looks like this:
870*(14.99/1700 - 0)*.50=$3.83
According to these calculations, if your entire 96k novel is read, with the first 9k words given away for free, you would earn between $4.32 - $3.83, depending how your reader purchases their tokens…a little at a time, earning you more, or in bulk, earning you less.
The Fine Print
Although Kindle Vella seems very straightforward in their stated royalty announcement:
"You (the author) will earn 50% of what readers spend on the Tokens that are used to unlock your story's episodes". -Kindle Vella
There is this concerning statement, found further down:
"Kindle Vella will make Tokens available through mobile channels that charge a fee." -Kindle Vella
Essentially, readers must use the existing in-app purchase systems, where the OS providers (Apple, in this case, Android may be down the line) take a fee - 30% being Apple's standard fee, as of July 2020.
So who pays the fee?
"The fee will be deducted from the revenue that is shared." - Kindle Vella
Uh oh. That just changes our formula.
If 30% is taken off the top, then, in reality, Amazon splits 70% of the revenue from token purchases with the authors.
Author's cut is now 35%.
Your profit from that 96,000 word novel just went down to $3.02, max.
If tokens are purchased in bulk, you'll only make $2.68.
Of course, this is an estimation, and we really don't know what percentage Apple will take for the in-app purchases. Possibly, Amazon will work out a deal with them, in the interest of attracting more authors.
One other thing to realize: It is quite likely Amazon will give away thousands of free tokens to promote Vella.
If you're still on board, as I am, here's a bit more that we know.
What You Cannot Do with Vella
- Kindle Vella does not accept content that's freely available elsewhere
The keyword here, being "freely". If your story is available elsewhere on the net, but readers must pay to access it, then you can simultaneously publish it on Vella - though it might take a few emails and maybe even a phone call to Amazon to clarify that your story is on a pay-to-read only platform.
- You cannot re-publish a book that's been published in any language, even if it's no longer available
Nope, you can't take that novel you published 10 years ago and try to breathe new life into it by chopping it into Vella episodes.
You can, however, use up to 5000 words of your own published work to bridge that story into your Vella story, in your first episode only. (helpful for a sequel to a Kindle book)
What You Can Do with Vella
- You can publish works in progress!
Although this may eventually change if authors start pulling WIP that aren't performing well, potentially leading to reader outcry, at this point you can start publishing Vella episodes before you finish writing the story.
Vella would like you to initially publish at least five or six episodes (remember, the first three are free), and they encourage authors to publish at least one episode per week to keep readers interested in your story.
This makes things pretty interesting. I think some of us will benefit from this; getting positive feedback from readers may inspire authors to keep on writing, and perhaps write more regularly.
- You can decide to convert your Vella story, once completed, to a Kindle e-book or paperback. Although you do have to delete it from Vella first, you are then free to publish the same story as a book on Kindle.
I find this very appealing, also. Let it run for a while on Vella, (maybe even while you're still writing it) and then find a new audience on Kindle.
A Few More Particulars
- You have 100 characters to create a story title. Make it count! Only the first five or six words will show up when readers are browsing (if they click on your listing they will see all 100 words), so try to make your first handful of title words stand out from the crowd.
- You have 500 characters to describe your story. If you're doing an anthology, this is where you should give the readers a peek at what they'll see after the initial free read, to entice them to continue to purchase tokens. If it's a novel, be sure to incorporate a reference to a compelling plot twist that they won't see till pretty far into the book. You need them to keep reading! Remember, unlike Kindle, the customer won't lose money by deciding to pass halfway through your story. Your "author's notes" is another tool to keep them reading.
- You will have a very small round image in lieu of a book cover. You need a compelling image that stands out from the crowd, uploaded as a 1600 x 1600 px square image. Vella will convert it to round. Kindle Vella advises you to not waste this space with words, as your title and author's name will be displayed directly beneath the image, anyway. (goodbye, fancy fonts)
- Reader feedback is limited to a thumbs-up and "fave story" only. Vella will reward popularity by promoting the stories with the most thumbs-ups and "faves".
Yep, a little surprising, no reader comments. This may be a good thing, but maybe not. As a reader, I like to read reviews before purchasing. This puts even more pressure on authors to hook readers with their initial chapters, but may come as a relief to those who've had the experience of a bad review.
- You can assign up to two categories and seven story tags, (like hashtags) to help readers find your story. Regarding story tags, this is another thing that will be easier to figure out once Vella is launched and authors can see which tags are most popular. At this point, since Amazon is after the Wattpad crowd, it might be worth a look to see which tags do well over there.
- Publishing on Kindle Vella is only available to US based authors, writing in English
- Initially, readers will only be able to access Vella through the Kindle iOS app and on the Amazon website
How Readers Will View Your Story
Time will tell.
I fully expect Amazon will see fit to make certain changes after they get Vella rolling. The question is, will they make changes that benefit the author or the reader?
New venues that pay authors for their writing are few and far between, and Amazon is a name we trust, even if we authors don't always agree with the way they do things.
Personally, I think Vella is worth trying out. Worst case scenario, if you feel like the platform isn't working for you, take your episodes down and repackage them as Kindle e-books or paperbacks.
What can it hurt?
About the author
Shell St. James is a New England author living in an 1895 farmhouse with her musician soulmate, feline muse, and a benevolent ghost. Her novel, "The Mermaid of Agawam Bay", is available on Amazon. Find out more at www.shellstjames.com